Bi Folks in “Straight” Relationships Still Need Queer Spaces

12/29/16

For LGBT folks, queer spaces are a vital part of our lives. They are safe zones in which we can feel secure, proud, and confident in our identities.

For 20 years of my life I lived in suburban Colorado. Predictably, because of its status as a swing state, there are parts of Colorado that definitely feel more open and accepting than others. My town was not one of those places.

During my adolescence, Romney and McCain signs were planted in yards. Many of my friends’ parents did not accept LGBT folks or anyone who “chose to be gay,” because their religious beliefs did not permit them to. When I began working at a lingerie store at my local mall, I felt like I might need to hide my sexual identity so as to not make anyone uncomfortable. My experiences were by no means unique. One of my best college buddies said he felt completely comfortable holding his boyfriend’s hand in our busy, liberal college town, but not in his rural hometown.

And whether you’ve lived in a conservative area or not, I think that most every LGBT person has experienced, at one time or another, some kind of fear about being “out” in a still overwhelmingly heteronormative world. Maybe it was those looks you received when holding hands with your same-gender partner in public. It may have been when an extended family member said something vaguely homophobic. Perhaps it was on Election Night.

Yes, we’ve likely all felt the fear and discomfort that makes queer spaces a near-mandatory part of our lives. However, there is another reason why these spaces are so needed by bi folks, in particular. For those of us bi people in relationships with people of a different gender than our own, we face a new issue: erasure.

If you’re a bi individual in a relationship with someone who outwardly looks like a different gender than yourself, the world will see the two of you together and assume one thing: you’re a straight couple.

Before meeting my current partner, I had dates and flirtations with women, almost exclusively. And in that time, I didn’t worry about my queerness being erased. I worried that people would assume I was a lesbian, but at least then they’d still think of me as part of the LGBT umbrella (I would always rather be assumed a lesbian than a straight person).

Now that I find myself in a serious, committed and monogamous relationship with a man, I feel differently. I feel like all of my queerness is being erased. I feel like I’m not seen as part of the club anymore, which is frustrating for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that I didn’t struggle for years trying to understand my attractions, figure out that I was bi, and then come out to everybody, only to have those experiences ignored. The second reason is that the LGBT community has always felt like home, and it’s a home I am not willing to be kicked out of because of other people’s assumptions.

When I’m dating a man I can feel myself clinging to parts of LGBT culture harder than when I’m with a woman. Pride festivals become even more empowering than they were before. LGBT clubs feel like even more of a haven. Hell, I even find myself clinging harder to shows and books that feature queer characters.

Several months ago I attended my first-ever West Hollywood Pride Festival. Until then, I’d only ever attended Denver Pride. Now don’t get me wrong, Denver Pride is amazing. But West Hollywood is a different animal. West Hollywood Pride is known nationwide. I was excited to go from the moment I moved to Los Angeles in March. Then, when Pride finally arrived in June, I found myself anticipating it even more than before – because by then I’d started dating my current partner.

After spending my days being assumed straight and having my queerness erased, the idea of going to Pride, inundating myself in LGBT culture, and being surrounded by fellow LGBT individuals felt like a much-needed breath of fresh air.

Yes, these places – Pride, LGBT bars, etc. – have always felt like home. They’ve always been a necessary and important part of my life. But now, years after coming out as bi, now that I’ve found myself in a relationship with a man (one that I hope lasts a very, very long time) these spaces have found a new meaning. An even deeper appreciation has grown.

This world likes to tell our community that we don’t exist and that our identities are not valid, and, sadly, it seems to be even easier for them to do that when we’re in what they see as a “straight” relationship. It’s also easier for those of us in that position to feel like we need to prove ourselves, and prove our bisexuality to them. But maybe we just need to remember that we will always be a part of the LGBT umbrella, no matter who we date, and if we’re ever feeling lonely, we’ll always have queer-friendly spaces to call home.

Mckenna Ferguson
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McKenna Ferguson is a bi activist, writer, and Corgi enthusiast living in Los Angeles. Originally hailing from suburban Colorado, McKenna graduated from Colorado State University with a major in English and a minor in Media Studies. Her work focuses on such things as LGBT life, entertainment and pop culture, and intersectional feminism. You can follow her on Twitter @McKennaMagazine for ramblings on her daily life and whatever show she's currently bingeing on Netflix.